Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)
If the long running, and incredibly boring, Amityville series proved anything, it’s that studios would rather drop money into a franchise who’s returns are diminishing, rather than create something new. And given the success of Hammer Films’ first forays into the Frankenstein and Dracula canon, sequels were inevitable.
With the follow-up to the Horror of Dracula, however, there were two significant changes. First, Peter Cushing would not return, thus ending one of the great Hammer teams that had made the Curse of Frankenstein, the Horror of Dracula, and the Mummy so successful. Christopher Lee’s Dracula would have to carry Dracula Has Risen from the Grave on his own. Also, and perhaps more importantly, Hammer chose not to reuse a old Universal script this time around, as they had started doing with the Mummy. Universal’s Dracula never had a “true” sequel, as both Dracula’s Daughter and Son of Dracula are dialogue heavy stories just with a character who has a storied family history.
(One wonders if the success of Universal’s Wolf Man played a role in that, being the studio’s first monster movie to have a sympathetic monster “hero.”)
With Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Hammer seemed to really be reveling in their distance from Universal. While Universal was hesitant to make horror films to begin with, making special concessions to ensure that the films wouldn’t offend religious sensibilities (Frankenstein’s preamble warning the audience that the film they’re about to watch is, in fact, just a film), here Hammer begins by openly desecrating the church.
A nondescript village church sits in the shadow of the empty Castle Dracula. The local priest (for some reason most of this film’s religious personal goes anonymous; here played by Ewan Hooper) opens the church one morning to find a buxom blonde (a Hammer staple) hanging dead from the church bell, her blood dripping all the way down through the church. A trio of cinematic transgressions that Hammer was building its fan base with.
Not heretical enough? It will be the weak-willed Priest who both releases Dracula (Christopher Lee) from his watery grave at the bottom of a frozen river, and then becomes the Prince of Darkness’ henchman. All this, and the church doesn’t even get Peter Cushing!
Instead the Vatican has Monsignor Ernst (Rupert Davies) set to combat evil and clean-up the ineffective priest’s mistakes. This despite the fact that Monsignor Ernst is a great deal older than the Priest, and lives in another district altogether. Also we must disregard Monsignor’s considerable actions so far: having exorcised Dracula’s castle, as well as sealing it shut with a giant, golden cross, while the Priest lays around bleeding over the Count’s grave. (A cross, by the way, that good old Ernst carried up the mountain.)
They say God tests those whom he loves the most… If this is true, Monsignor will have a VIP pass through Heaven’s gates as soon as he arrives.
Monsignor receives some help, however, through the unlikely person of novice village baker Paul (Barry Andrews); an atheist who’s dating the Monsignor’s niece, Maria (Veronica Carlson). Paul’s a bit of a stick in the mud; always mentioning how he has to tell the truth on some George Washington shit.
While Paul’s dinner date with Maria’s family from hell is playing out, Dracula has been busy using the possessed Priest to track down the Count’s tormentors. Paul feeds the zombie-esque Priest all he needs to know about the Monsignor; where he lives, who lives with him, what a vulnerable target his niece would be, etc.
Bumblng humans aside, this is the first Dracula film I’ve seen where the Count is a total bad-ass. When possessed barmaid Zena (Barbara Ewing) fails to bring Maria to the Count, Dracula’s punishment comes swiftly. He drains her of her blood, then commands the Priest to “destroy her” after her blood-splattered corpse sprouts fangs. Cold, quick, and to the point; three qualities that no doubt inspire fans to rate Christopher Lee’s portrayal of the Count above Lugosi’s.
(Lee loses some serious style points when he cat-kisses a slumbering Maria rather than kissing her, however. His English might’ve been rough, but Bela knew how to bed the ladies.)
One nice touch that Lee’s TechnoColor Count gets to enjoy that Lugosi’s black and white one couldn’t is the film’s fantastically oversaturated colors. Occasionally (and maddeningly inconsistently), the actors will be surrounded by a wonderful aura of color, like someone had accidentally scanned the camera over the Sun permanently. While this effect would be awesome if it was part of the Dracula package, i.e. used every time we see him, it instead sometimes blesses the Count, and other times Paul. My best guess being that it represents Dracula’s living dead “unreality;” visualizing how Dracula’s undead presence affects our mortal reality.
Unfortunately, despite all of Dracula’s demonic bravado, he’s a pushover when it comes to fisticuffs. Paul first manhandling the Prince of Darkness in the bakery (Dracula only being saved by atheist Paul’s refusal to recite the Lord’s Prayer after the staking), followed by the coup de grace outside the Count’s castle. Where, after the possessed Maria throws the golden crucifix down the mountainside, Dracula himself is flung over the side.
The Count only saving face from the fact that Paul’s heave threw both of them over the side, so technically Paul’s survival and Dracula’s death weren’t planned but mere luck.
—More Christopher Lee as the Count? YES Please!—